Greece becomes a migrant ‘warehouse’

Athens — Greece is fast becoming the “warehouse of human beings” that its government has vowed not to allow.
Hastily setup camps for refugees and other migrants are full. Thousands of people wait through the night, shivering in the cold at the Greek-Macedonian border, in the country’s main port of Piraeus, in squares dotted around Athens, or on dozens of buses parked up and down Greece’s main north-south highway.
On Thursday, hundreds of frustrated men, women and children abandoned their stranded buses or left refugee camps, setting off on a desperate trek dozens of kilometers (miles) long to reach a border they know is quickly shutting down to them. About 20,000 migrants were in Greece on Thursday, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said.
Of those, Macedonia allowed just 100 people to cross over from Greece’s Idomeni border area. Another 2,700 people, mostly Syrians and Iraqis, were waiting in a camp at Idomeni at nightfall, while another 1,000 people were stuck at a gas station in Polykastro, 17 kilometers away.
Thousands more were heading north — about 40 busloads of people were waiting along Greece’s main highway, while refugee camps in northern Greece and near Athens were full.
Greece is mired in a full-blown diplomatic dispute with some EU countries over their border slowdowns and closures. But to those on the road — and to Greece, a financially struggling nation with a lengthy seacoast that is impossible to seal — who is responsible for the border restrictions almost doesn’t matter. What matters is the result.
And that result finds both Greece and the migrants caught in the middle between an increasingly fractious Europe, where several countries are reluctant to accept more asylum-seekers, and Turkey, which has appeared unwilling or unable to staunch the torrent of people leaving its shores in barely seaworthy smuggling boats bound for Greek islands.
Adding to the pressure is Greece’s financial predicament. The country has been wracked by a financial crisis since 2010 and still depends on an international bailout for which it must pass yet more painful reforms. Those have led to widespread protests, including blockades on the country’s highways by farmers who are furious at pension changes they say will decimate their incomes.
The vast majority of those reaching Greece, Europe’s main gateway for migrants, have been Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis fleeing war at home
“My only hope is to live in a safe place. That’s enough for me actually,” said 17-year-old Minhaj Ud Din Wahaj from Afghanistan’s Wardak province. “We have been in war since 40 years, so I have been raised in war. I was born in war.”
In Athens, hundreds of migrants mill around central Victoria Square, uncertain of where to go next. On Thursday, two men hanged themselves from a tree in the square but were rescued by bystanders. Police said the men, who were rushed to a hospital, were trying to draw attention to their predicament.—AP

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